South Africa is being gripped by a deadly food-borne disease, health authorities revealed on Tuesday.
No fewer than 557 cases of listeriosis, a bacterial disease, had been confirmed across South Africa, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi told reporters in Pretoria.
Gauteng recorded the most cases followed by the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
But just what is listeriosis?
1. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention describes listeriosis as a serious, but treatable and preventable disease caused by the bacterium, listeria monocytogenes.
The bacteria is found in soil, water and vegetation. Animal products and fresh produce such as fruits and vegetables can be contaminated from these sources.
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2. Anyone could get listeriosis. However, those at high risk of developing the disease include newborn babies, the elderly, pregnant women, people with weak immunity such as HIV, diabetes, cancer, chronic liver or kidney disease patients.
3. The age groups most affected are neonates (those in the first 28 days of life) and in the age group 15-49 years. These two groups comprise 70 percent of all cases.
4. It can be treated with antibiotics.
5. It is believed that for this particular outbreak, the most likely possible source is contaminated food at the origin; for example, at farms as well as food processing plants.
6. Infection with listeria may result in:
– Flu-like illness with diarrhoea including fever, general body pains, vomiting and weakness
– Infection of the bloodstream which is called septicaemia
– Meningoencephalitis (infection of the brain)
7. The source of the outbreak is likely to be a food product that is widely distributed and consumed by people across all socio-economic groups.
8. While investigations are underway, the public has been advised to do the following:
– Keep clean.
– Wash your hands before handling food and often during food preparation.
– If you are handling or storing raw food, don’t touch already cooked food unless you have thoroughly washed your hands and utensils. In other words, separate raw from cooked food.
– Cook food thoroughly. Never eat half-cooked or uncooked food, especially meat products.
– Food that does not usually need cooking before eating must be thoroughly washed with clean running water. Families with no clean running water should boil their water before domestic use.
– Keep food at safe temperatures. Food that should be kept cold should be refrigerated and food to be served hot should be served hot.
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– Use safe water for domestic use at all times. Also use pasteurised milk products. Where pasteurisation is not possible, boil the milk prior to use for own domestic consumption.
9. The first documented outbreak of listeriosis in South Africa was in 1977 when 14 cases were reported in the Johannesburg area.
Since then sporadic cases occurred throughout South Africa. In 2015, seven cases were reported from a tertiary hospital in the Western Cape.
No common source of exposure was found among these cases, although at least five of the seven were shown to be related on laboratory examination.
10. The latest outbreak was flagged by doctors at Chris Hani Baragwanath and Steve Biko hospitals in Gauteng who noticed an unusual number of babies being brought in with the illness.
They then notified the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
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